Car Doctor

Should I change the transmission fluid on my 300K-mile car?

John Paul, AAA Northeast's Car Doctor, answers a question from a reader with a nearly 20-year-old car.

Toyota Logo
AP Photo/David Zalubowski

Q. I have a 2002 Toyota Camry with 307,000 miles on it. I have never changed the transmission fluid. I checked the fluid yesterday and it was still full, but the color has changed from a strong red color to a more red/brown color. Should I do anything at this time with the fluid? The car is running okay.

A. Changing transmission fluid on a high mileage car can be risky. Sometimes when you change or flush transmission fluid, the varnish and other debris will wash away and cause additional problems as this varnish gets into the transmission valve body. New transmission fluid is not a cure for transmission problems such as slipping and flaring between shifts.


Q. Over the past few days when I turn the air conditioner on in my car, I see a mist or fog coming out of the vents. Is this the Freon leaking out, and what should I do?

A. In some cases, this can be from an air conditioner system that is slightly undercharged with refrigerant. Although, more than likely what you are seeing is a result of high humidity coming in contact with the cold dry air. This can be more likely if the air conditioner is set in recirculate, rather than fresh air. Also, if the air conditioner evaporator drain is clogged, this extra water will cause fog.

Q. We purchased a new 2020 Kia Sportage in December of 2019. It did not have the usual new car smell, but instead a very strong offensive rubber, industrial smell. We were assured by the dealer that this would go away, usually in a few months. It has subsided some, but after 10 months, the car just is a sick, unhealthy smelling vehicle. I’ve tried everything and just had the cabin filter replaced with no effect. The dealer recognizes the smell and tells us we need to contact KIA ourselves. Doing research, we found that in 2012, Kia Sportage was one of 10 worst for VOC’s, but can find no further information. Can you shed light on this? 


A. Years ago, Kia, and as well as Hyundai vehicles had some odd smells that were certainly different from a typical new car smell. I haven’t noticed that odd smell in many years. In my own car, a Hyundai Santa-Fe, it had a very strong smell, and it was the dealer/port installed cargo tray. Once I removed the tray, cleaned it, and let it sit in the sun for a few days, the smell disappeared. To minimize the smell, always keep the air setting on the fresh air side rather than recirculating the cabin air. At this point 11 months later, any smell should have dissipated. Certainly, calling Kia customer service is a good start. Readers, have you had a similar experience with odd new car smells? I would like to know. Email me at [email protected]

Q. I have a 2010 Escalade Hybrid with a 6.0-liter engine. The motor has a loud tapping sound from the top end of the motor. Do you know of a shop that can repair this problem? 

A. The engine in this vehicle uses cylinder deactivation to save fuel. The engine itself has a history of faulty valve lifters which produce a distinctive ticking noise. At 11 going on 12 years old that is at least one of the possibilities that could cause a noise like what you are experiencing. Regarding getting the car looked at and repaired, any competent repair should be able to at least give you an idea of what could be wrong. For a list of AAA approved repair shops near you go to


John Paul is AAA Northeast’s Car Doctor. He has over 40 years of experience in the automotive business and is an ASE-certified master technician. E-mail your car question to [email protected] Listen to Car Doctor on the radio at 10 a.m. every Saturday on 104.9 FM or online at

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